So you’re at a social event and there are a few friends of friends who you’ve not yet met. As usual, you introduce yourself and oh.. err.. this suddenly becomes seriously awkward as you dive in for a hug whilst the other person politely offers their hand. “What!? Have I missed something?” Nope, this isn’t a business meeting, you’re just in Germany where people of all ages genuinely shake hands when they first meet. You now look like an absolute keeno who thinks they’ve known this person for 5 years, when it hasn’t even been 5 minutes. Great.
If I had a pound (or euro) for the amount of times this has happened since I moved to Germany, I would be rich. I’m from London and I just can’t shake the feeling that offering your hand is too formal. I still feel like I am putting up a barrier between myself and the person I have just met.
It’s similar to the use of ‘Bekannter’ acquaintance which is thrown around way more regularly than in English. I mean, perhaps I use the word ‘friend’ too loosely, but why intentionally keep such a distance when you can just be welcoming and use the word ‘Freund’ friend, even if you don’t know the person inside out? For me, as soon as the hand shake progresses to a hug, or ‘Bekannter’ progresses to ‘Freund’, it’s like you’ve been ‘accepted’ and then I’m like ok, so I guess we’ve now entered ‘stage of friendship: level 2’.
After months of tackling my own cultural norms and unnautrally greeting people with a hand shake, imagine the horror when I went to a sauna and everyone else was naked!! WHAT!!?? No hugs on first introductions, but hey, let’s get naked in the sauna together when I don’t even know your name!?
I honestly didn’t know where to look. No swimwear allowed in saunas (for hygiene purposes), if you’d like to cover up, you’ll need to bring a towel (because this is more hygienic?) I was so shocked, or rather horrified, that I even brought it up with a with a few German friends. To my comfort, they also think this nakedness is weird so perhaps it’s not as culturally ingrained as I had initailly thought (?) But can you imagine my confusion when comparing this to the reserved hand shake and frequent use of ‘Bekannter’!? It had me questioning how such a HUGE contrast is even possible!
I’m pretty flexible with adpating to different cultures, but when it comes to getting naked in the sauna, I’m gonna have to say “nein danke,” it’s just not for me!